The Raptors need the mother of all win streaks to have any chance of making the playoffs, yet head coach Sam Mitchell continues to baby his rookie centre Rafael Araujo. With 17 games left, the Raps are 9 1/2 games out of a playoff spot with four teams in the way. Wins are crucial at this point but, for whatever reason, Mitchell continues to start Araujo even though the big Brazilian is just not getting it done.
Araujo has started in every game since Dec.28, yet has lasted more than 20 minutes only five times.
Mitchell has had to substitute for the rookie in the first quarter in most games during that stretch, either because of foul trouble or because he is not giving the team anything substantial on offence or defence. So why does Araujo continue to start?
There's a feeling that Mitchell's hands are tied, that the first-year head coach is under pressure to start the club's first pick (eighth overall) from last year's draft so the organization can see what kind of player it got -- even if that hurts the club's chances of making the playoffs.
Mitchell denies that, insisting that Araujo, who is averaging 3.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 12.5 minutes this season, brings much needed toughness to his lineup -- suggesting a physical presence is more important than rebounds or points.
Donyell Marshall is the player Mitchell generally inserts in place of Araujo in first quarters, and the 11-year pro has done a great job coming off the bench, averaging 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds.
With Chris Bosh out with a sore back on Friday night in Detroit, Marshall was given his first start of the season and he responded by posting team-high totals in points (25) and rebounds (12) in a hard-fought 103-92 loss to the Pistons. Araujo had two points and two rebounds in 16 minutes.
Last year, Bosh played centre, and played well. So, with the team supposedly still hoping to make the playoffs, why not move Bosh back to centre and start Marshall at power forward, at least until the team is mathematically eliminated?
Again, Mitchell says the team needs Araujo's physical presence as a starter.
"He has a lot to learn, but he's got to get out and play," Mitchell said yesterday. "I just felt like it would be easier to get him minutes in the starting lineup rather than bring him off the bench."
Jalen Rose understands why some people would question the wisdom of starting Araujo game after game over Marshall, with the playoffs on the line.
"I don't want to blame Hoffa for the fact that we're not winning because he's still a rookie and he's learning on the fly and he's doing the best he can," Rose said. "But obviously if you're drafting a fantasy team, you'd probably pick Donyell."
Bosh will be back in the lineup for this afternoon's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the ACC.